As an LSU professor, I want the people of Louisiana to understand the current debate over retirements in the Legislature.
Louisiana long ago detached its higher education faculties and most of the state’s employees from Social Security. In lieu of that, LSU faculty were given TRSL (Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana), which was a guaranteed benefit program, and the benefits were consistent with university retirement programs in other states. However, our Legislature did not properly fund the program, and so an unfunded accrued liability was produced.
In the early ’90s, the state permitted LSU system faculty to opt out of TRSL and to join an optional retirement program (ORP). Professors like myself, who went from TRSL to ORP, gave up years of university contributions to our retirements in order to make this change.
Those of us on ORP, 64 percent at LSU and about 50 percent for the entire system, generated no unfunded liability for the state, and we have no guaranteed benefits. However, in order to pay for the unfunded liability, the state currently requires LSU to pay TRSL an equivalent to 17.7 percent of each faculty member’s salary, including ORP members. At the same time, the state’s contribution to the ORP retirements is lower than that of any other significant university in the region or the country. Compare Louisiana’s 5.97 percent with Mississippi’s 9 percent.
To sum up, the state has underfunded both TRSL and ORP programs and now wants to tax higher education faculty, who could pay 3 percent more for reduced benefits. This is a pay cut after four years without raises. Ironically, the unfunded liability may not be affected since the state may reduce its own contributions.
If these bills pass, LSU-A&M will become the most inhospitable research university in the country. It will be the last choice of every job candidate, and those who can will leave. The entire LSU system will be undermined. Already, at my institution we are bleeding faculty. In the long run, the decline of Louisiana’s flagship university and its sister institutions will negatively impact the economic development of the state. Since elite universities, like the one that the governor attended, have become increasingly unaffordable for members even of the upper middle class, it will be more difficult to attract educated workers from outside the state, and our educated workforce in the state will have greater motivation to leave. Education overall will decline, and our children will not have the same opportunities as those in other states.
The people of Louisiana have as much right to quality higher education as the people of any other state in this union. They should not allow near-sighted legislators and a blind governor to destroy what all of us have worked so hard to create.
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